STORYTIME SUNDAY- A Generous Theft

Mr. and Mrs. Olliver owned a tiny antique shop off of the main highway. It marked the change in scenery between the bustling new shopping district and what was once a bustling middle class neighborhood. But that was when they opened nearly forty years ago. Now the neighborhood that had typically been the home to teachers, small business owners and the like was nothing as it was before. Like the shop itself, the street seemed to have become dusty and rusted with time.  There were shabby convenient stores in lieu of the family owned soda-pop shops. The Peruvian-owned Chinese restaurant took the place of a Hal’s Diner.  When Mr. Olliver looked out of the window of his shop to check on things he still chuckled, thinking about the summer of 1972 when Hal, in an ethnocentric rage, refused service to white people not from the neighborhood.. A taste of your own medicine he’d laugh as his daughter served their food in Styrofoam boxes. No one’d ever seen anything like it. They still came though, white folk, because nobody this side of the Mason-Dixon line could cook like Hal. But no one on this street knew any of those things today.

Except for a few families who were able to hold onto their homes, everyone was new; no one ever stayed for long. And no one who lived here hardly ever went into Olliver’s. Though the tiny shop possessed many items they knew full well to be of great value, people were no longer interested in anything of value at all. No. People today wanted flash. Especially those lower on the socioeconomic scale. New money and no money have one thing in common: they see little value in anything that doesn’t showcase it’s worth. The only reason no one ever robbed the store was out of great respect for Mr. Olliver. He could be seen carrying groceries for anyone he saw who needed help. He gave jobs to people who were on hard times for as long as he could afford it. Actions like this, though seemingly insignificant, can hold great value in the eyes of people you didn’t even know were watching.

But things were not so pleasant within the Olliver home. In its heyday the shop brought in customers from all over the city. Mr. and Mrs. Olliver would dress each day as though they were dressing for a formal dinner. Mrs. Olliver could be seen shopping at all of the finest department stores. Each week she’d sport a new hair style and freshly manicured nails. They had been everywhere from Lisbon to Johannesburg to Bali.

If you’d asked Mr. Olliver he would tell you that he had lived a full life. Even as the shop declined, Mr. Olliver was happy for the year’s he’d seen, the places he’d been and the people he’d known. This would not be true if you asked his wife, who’s lust for money was nothing short of insatiable. She’d decided that the singular cause of their financial stagnation was her husband’s inability to attract attention to the store.

“Oh my, look at all these people,” she’d say theatrically to her husband as they sat together behind the counter in the empty shop. Then she’d sigh, as though she were tired from a great deal of work and then stroll around with her arms spread wide to show the empty business. “My God Henry, some sort of advertisement would get more people in here and we could be rich again!” She’d rub her finger along whatever shelf she was nearest and add, “And clean this dump up. This is an antique shop not your grandmothers attic.”

But Mr. Olliver would shake his head, careful not to rouse the beast within his wife, and respond with “Honey, if we had the money for advertisements, we wouldn’t need them.”

Aggravated by her husband’s cyclical reasoning, she’d storm off to their even tinier apartment above their shop and could be heard cursing him for miles around. Eventually, she became so distressed she refused to even leave their apartment. “I’m sorry, but I can’t afford fresh air”, she’d say when he asked if she would take a stroll around the park with him.  When he suggested they take a drive to the ocean she didn’t even look up from her Soap Opera before she responded, “Sorry hun, I can’t afford sunshine.”

She hadn’t always been this way, but then again they’d typically had more to live off of. So, every day now , Mr. Olliver manned the shop on his own, knowing that he’d no longer be able to coax his wife out of bed without sufficient funds.

One morning as he climbed down the rickety wooden stairs that led to the dusty back room of the pawn shop he had an unusual feeling. It was that feeling you get when you know someone’s coming around the corner or down the hall, even when you don’t hear them or see a shadow.  He checked the shop over three times, but could not for his life rid himself of this awkward feeling. Finally, he realized that a small golden watch had been removed from the jewelry case and in its stead was a note.

“I apologize for taking the watch. I will pay you back it’s value a hundred times over if only if only you don’t report this to anyone.”

But it wasn’t because of the note that knew he that he would not be speaking to anyone about the theft. The cops would file a report, but there were no camera’s, they had no witnesses and the case would collect as much dust as the shop itself. He did not tell his friends and family because he didn’t have any and he dared not tell his wife.  What would she say after she’d discovered that they’d lost one of the items that had the greatest value? What would become of him in her wrath?

So, Mr. Olliver pocketed the note, and went about his day as usual. Wondering who had broken in was not important. The issue was how. They had one window and one door, and both had steel bars. The window had been glued shut for twenty years now. Before retiring upstairs, Mr. Olliver made sure to double check every aspect of the door and window. Though he could not see how anyone got in. He shuffled upstairs to his wife and went to sleep.

The next morning, Mr. Olliver rushed down stairs as fast as his feet could take him hoping, though he did not admit it to himself, to see a pile of money on the counter. The note did say 100 times the value of the watch. Perhaps now his wife would be happy. But there was no pile of money. And after  a once over of the shop Mr. Olliver noticed that there was another note in the place of where a shelf full of antique books were placed. The note was written in the same hand as the one before.

“Please forgive me for taking of these books. If you please don’t tell anyone, I will pay you back 1,000 time’s their value.

My. Olliver felt slighted. He had not reported the first theft, and here was the thief requesting once again that he not reveal the situation to anyone. Begrudgingly he took the note, folded it with the first and once again placed them in his pocket and went about his day as usual. He glanced out of the window and wondered if the thief, whoever it may be, was watching him at that very moment. Perhaps he was sitting across the street in the bar/liquor store having a laugh at old Mr. Olliver’s expense. Perhaps he was one of the customers to whom Mrs. Olliver had refused to bargain with for these items and was now making a fool of the both of them.

Still, Mr. Olliver was more understanding than he’d wanted to be. Perhaps the young fellow or young lady was on hard times. It was, after all, a mere two days before Christmas. The books and the watch were extremely valuable, true enough, but who’d been in to buy either of them lately? Damn it all, Mr. Olliver thought, my wife complains about what it is we don’t have, but we’ve never been hungry, or cold. Not one day in our life together have we had to do without. I’ve taken her all over the world, there’s hardly any soil she’s yet to set foot on and she complains because now we can’t afford those things? So what if the shop isn’t what it once was. Neither is her body, but I still love her the same. What do I have to do to keep this woman happy? It was his wife who was dissatisfied with life, not he. And though their shop was dusty, they had many loyal customers who had come in for many years. Mrs. Langly,  for one,had been coming in the shop for nearly thirty years now. Mr. and Mrs. Olliver knew her as well as they’d known their closest relatives. They were saddened to hear about the death of her daughter, and delighted to see how close she and her granddaughter had become over the past few weeks. Though Mrs. Langly never had much money with which to purchase items, her family had a great many collectible items, things they had procured over quite a few centuries, it seemed. It was many of those things that lay on the Olliver’s shelves now, and those that attracted the truest collectors of the city. Well, thought Mr. Olliver, come to think of it, both the watch and the books had come from Mrs. Langly. Perhaps it was her who had come in the night. But no. It couldn’t be. Even if the window had not been glued shut, it was entirely too small for the old woman to fit through. Mr Olliver let his imagination wander over to the granddaughter, perhaps she…but the little girl could not possibly have been strong enough to force her way in. Even if someone had come through the window, though, it would not have been resealed in the same fashion, especially without a lack of disturbance on the dust.

Lost in contemplation about how content he really was and how to get his wife to feel the same, he didn’t notice that the sun had completely set. He walked over to the door to switch on the light outside and smiled to himself as he saw Mrs. Langly’s granddaughter. She was walking with a little boy about her age and they were carrying grocery bags and were having what seemed to be a very passionate, but elated discussion. Neither of them could stop smiling. Mr. Olliver was elated to see them in such a wonderful state. Both had lost their parents, the boy to prison, the girl to death. How they could manage with such frail guardians and meager means and still be this happy made him feel appreciative that at least some people in the world were grateful for what they had. If his wife was any proof, this world was full of people who were never satisfied.

In the heat of his affection for the children he opened the door and called them over. The children stopped and looked at one another. The little girl was shocked, clearly she’d thought they were going to be chastised by the old scary man in the doorway. But the boy shrugged his shoulders and gave her a look that seemed to say “He’s alright, let’s go.”

“Hi Mr. Olliver,” the little boy sounded slightly uneasy.

“Hi Brandon,” Mr. Olliver said as he gestured for the kids to come inside. “I have something for the two of you.”

With Brandon at his heels, Mr. Olliver trotted over to the register. He went around the counter and pulled from inside a cabinet beneath the register a small porcelain jewelry box. As he placed the box on the counter he noticed that the little girl was still standing in the doorway. She had not ever come into the shop with her grandmother and Mr. Olliver felt slightly abashed at the idea that he may have been making the little girl feel uncomfortable. But he wanted to give them both a gift. Brandon, who was standing just in front of the box looked at it curiously and turned to the little girl.

“It’s ok Emily,” he spoke softly. “This is Mr. Olliver, he lets me sweep the shop sometimes for a job.”

“And due to your fine work young man,” Mr. Olliver beamed, “I’d like to present a gift to both you and your little friend.”

Like one handling a scroll that may turn to dust any moment , Mr. Olliver pulled out two golden rings. One was set with what were, unmistakably, emeralds, the other with rubies. They were simple and elegant, befitting of royalty.

“These”, Mr. Olliver said in a voice filled with awe, “are said to be the true rings that the Magician’s nephew found.”

Brandon looked quizzically into Mr. Olliver’s eyes but Emily had taken a few steps forward, her eyes set on the rings.

“The rings that take you to other worlds?” she said in a near whisper.

“The very same.”

Emily took a few more cautious steps forward. She had been a child who had read and who had been read to. She knew the story very well. These were the rings that brought the White Witch from her world into our’s and then, in turn, into Narnia itself. These were the rings that were said to have been destroyed.

“I know most people don’t believe In things like this-”

“I do.” Emily said to no one in particular.

Mr. Olliver knew that he had chosen the perfect gift for the children.

“Well,” he sighed, “then they are yours. One for each of you. In the spirit of Christmas of course.”

“Thank you Mr. Olliver Brandon said taking the ruby ring.

Emily seemed to be speechless. As she and Brandon headed out the door she turned and said “You’re very kind Mister. I won’t ever forget this.”

Mr. Olliver feeling eerily complete decided to close shop for the night. It had been fairly busy and the children brought a perfect end to one of his most, relatively, lucrative days. But after he locked the door and turned on the spot his wife emerged from the shadows of the storage room.

“Well,” she said in a biting voice. “How quaint. You give away what could have been our biggest sale to two poor, filthy children. You’re too complacent Henry. Don’t you want a bigger house? Look at our clothes! The boy doesn’t even clean well when you let him come. But how can he clean up anything with filth falling from every part of him. And that little brat of Langley’s daughter is no different. They keep bringing us things to sell but haven’t bought a thing for years! You’re fool. A damned fool.”

Mr. Olliver took her venomous words with a grain of salt. He was used to this. He did wish she hadn’t seen what he’d done though, and was grateful even more that he hadn’t told her about the thefts. Once Christmas was over, he’d have enough money to take her out somewhere up to her standards and to buy her more jewelry and clothes than he thought necessary. Then she’d be appeased. With this comforting thought, he followed his wife upstairs and with little Emily’s words playing over and over again in his mind he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

When he went down to the shop the next day he’d forgotten all about the thefts. That was until he noticed that one of the teddy bears he kept propped in the window to attract holiday shoppers was missing. And once again, in it’s stead was a note.

“I am sorry for taking this bear. I will pay back it’s worth a million times over but only if you don’t whisper word of this to anyone.”

Not giving it another thought Mr. Olliver took the note, put it with the other two in his pocket and replaced the teddy bear with a monkey he personally favored. As the next day was Christmas eve, he was so busy that he’d forgotten all about anything except that he was near making enough money to satisfy his wife. Mrs. Olliver, for her part, must have smelled the money coming in. She was downstairs right after lunch and stayed with him until it was time to close. After the last customer of the day had gone, they locked the door and together went up the dusty old stairs. Mrs. Olliver was so HAPPY about the money they had made she offered to cook dinner for Mr. Olliver for the first time in months. What’s more she would wash their clothes together and not make him do it alone again. As Mr. Olliver sat reading a novel in his chair, Mrs. Olliver stormed into the room.

“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” her voice rang out.

Before he looked up from his page Mr. Olliver already knew what it was his wife was clutching and he hurriedly looked for an excuse.

“Someone has been stealing from us and you’ve kept it from me? And worse they stole that watch that lady said she’d come in and buy with the new year. She promised us a thousand for it and it’s gone. I’m calling the police!”

“Susan,” Mr. Olliver said smoothly. “I wrote those notes. I plan on reporting the items missing after new year’s and we can get an insurance claim on them. The rings I gave the kids too.”

Mrs. Olliver’s cold countenance melted away. She beamed at him.

“Good. It’s well time you put that brain of yours to use.”

She went back to her laundry, he back to his novel and not an unkind word was spoken again that night.

As the sun rose the following morning, which happened to be Christmas Eve, Mr. Olliver lay in bed wondering if he’d done the right thing, lying to his wife. She wasn’t the most genteel lady, but wasn’t her aspiration to be one what prompted her to behave in such a foul manner?  Just look, he thought, at how she’s behaving. Up early this morning cooking breakfast for us. She hasn’t made me breakfast in months. He climbed out of bed, not knowing which creaked more – the bed or himself, and yawned his way to the kitchen table.

“Coffee?” a soft, sweet voice said as a plate of sausage and biscuits and eggs was placed before him.

“Who the hell are you?” Henry choked. Standing before him, smiling and stirring coffee was not his wife.

“Darling,” this new woman looked at Henry with pity, “I think you ought not carry out your plan.”

“Where’s my wife?” Mr. Olliver asked, not angrily.

“Are you feeling alight Henry?” she seemed to have misread the confusion on his face and she continued: “If anyone sees those children with the rings they’d think they did it. Especially Brandon. We know how he takes…risks. And anyway I don’t think it’s in your nature and for some reason I don’t feel too keen on it either.”

They looked at one another solemnly. Henry Olliver could not believe his eyes and ears. This strange woman spoke to him as though she really was his wife. Or maybe it was him. I’m going senile, he thought. This must be the onset of dimentia.

“Okay,” he coughed. “I won’t do it. Burn the notes.”

“Good.”

An hour later Mr. Olliver sat in the stool behind the counter. He was quite alone in the shop as he’d put the CLOSED sign up and convinced the woman who thought she was his wife that she’d be of more service to him if she’d made his favorite meal. He needed time to think. To adjust. He couldn’t understand it. So consumed by his thoughts he didn’t hear the bell over the door jingle as Emily walked in and peered at him over the counter.

“Oh. I’m sorry Emily, but we’re closed. I’m sure the sign is up there I guess I forgot to lock the door.”

“I guess you did forget,” she replied. “I brought you this cake from my grandma. And me and Brandon made you cards. Merry Christmas!”

Singing a tune that reminded him of his childhood, Emily made to exit the shop. She paused at the door, however and looking Mr. Olliver square in the face said, “You ought to read mine first” and she picked back up her tune and was gone. The jingling of the bells after she’d walked out hadn’t even slowed their pace before he tore the cake box open. Munching on a chunk he looked through the basket and found the card marked “Mr. Olliver” in such dainty writing it could only be the little girl’s.

I know it was wrong to take those things especially since my grandmother gave them to you.. I just wanted to get presents for Brandon and his family. Since you kept your word, I’m keeping mine. I took the qualities of the stuff I took and found a wife for you who had them all. Patience for the watch, wisdom for the books, and you could use some kindness so I gave her some from the bear. I’m still learning, so my grandma made this cake to make sure everything stays this way. She says  if you share this cake with your new wife, and make sure she has three bites she’ll be kind forever. She’s not really new, and I didn’t really find her…we, well, we sort of changed your old wife. Alot. Merry Christmas. And thank you for the rings.”

Mr. Olliver looked at the door Emily had just left through. It was bolted. He looked back at the note, but it was blank. As swiftly as he could he carried the cake and the cards from the children upstairs and shared them both with his wife. With whom he shared a happy, appreciative life.

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